I am participating in the essay contest from The USC Prison Education Project in Los Angeles. The goal is to write a creative story about what an education means to me. This is the essay I wrote for the 2022 NATIONAL ADULT IMPACTED WRITERS CONTEST
Let’s be CLEAR, I failed every class from grade four to seven – flunked the seventh and the ninth. Quit high school twice. The sad thing is, I was GIVEN my high school diploma with ten credits.
Upon entering prison with a murder charge and a fifty year sentence, I thought my life was absolutely over. Depressed, a fellow inmate suggested college. My mother’s mantra eased through my psyche: ‘You’re not college material.’
Barely able to read or write, I completed the college application. The kind counselor eased the form back and stated: ‘you misspelled several things, please try it again.’ Up to that point I NEVER studied for anything EVER. I wanted to prove my mother wrong, so I gave maximum effort. With each passing grade my confidence grew. But I had a real problem with my spelling. To cure that, a fellow college student and I played scrabble. If a word was misspelled, tiles would be swiped off the board. It worked.
Step by step
My next step was Dr. Barbara Huval’s English Comp Class. She dumped essay after essay on the class. Those pieces that I wrote glowed with her red ink marks. At some point things got better. The transition caused me to dive into the craft of writing. The flame was lit. Through diligent studies I learned how to write stage plays, screenplays, TV shows and novels. Excited, I purchased my first typewriter. I started out ‘pecking’ slowly until one day I made those keys ring.
The next step was dealing with my anger. Mr. Townley’s Cognitive Intervention Class was the key. The frail old guy was tough. His mantra: ‘I can’t come in here and be soft with convicts! You’ll run over me!’ His class healed me. His thinking report opened my eyes. I discovered that I used my anger to control others. From that point in my journey I started loving myself and others.
With my courage on the rise, I entered the 2008 Expressions Magazine Writing Contest sponsored by Lamar University. At first, I was apprehensive. I never shared my written thoughts with anyone. So one can imagine my fear. I entered the contest and won first place and the article was published. Shocked, I threw myself into more work.
I mailed tons of query letters, as well I was fighting for my freedom, so I wrote a ton of letters to Innocence Projects all over the world. I received all types of rejection letters. I knew God showed me my gift and giving up would appear that I did not believe in what God gave me. So I can never give up.
I started this journey in 1998 and got a small break in 2008. I never considered giving up on my dream of freedom and my writing dreams. In 2009 we received my first legal break. Someone came forward that knew I were actually innocent. I would still have to reach out through writing to find the expert witnesses needed. I wrote an expert and Dr. Plunkett stepped in and basically cleared me of murder. Not enough, I would also write Dr. Peter Stephens and Dr. Bonnell, all three experts would clear me of murder. My lawyers are currently fighting for my freedom.
My challenges as a writer continued. I wrote my first novel, entitled MUD. As a screenplay, I was contacted. The guy was floored with my efforts. He sent his first contract. I quickly ignored the content and signed. He placed a synopsis that I wrote on his website and I figured I was on my way to Hollywood. Still not receiving a check, he sent me a second and third contract. I signed them all and to date I have not received a dime. Panicked, I quickly wrote MUD as a novel and self-published the book. Mrs. Huval’s words eased past my thoughts often: ‘Perseverance, you have perseverance.’
I continued and wrote Mr. Richard Ross, a professor at the University of California and a representative of Harper’s Magazine. Mr. Ross interviewed me concerning preventive ways to stop child incarceration. This subject is dear to me considering one of my children went to a youth facility at sixteen.
As of recently, a dear friend, Johanna set up a website: derricksprisonblog.com that gives me a platform to write blogs. To date, we have over eight thousand views. From this writing, The Black Spring Press in London offered me a publishing deal for my blogs Writing for Freedom. We have also placed three chapters from my autobiography ‘Broken Furniture’ on the site as well. I earned my first degree in Associates of Arts in 2008 and Associates of Applied Science as in HVAC Tech.
Without education and the wonderful people I befriended along the way, I would still be a broken kid. Education literally saved my life.
Derrick L. Griffin, 05-04-2022